June 3, 2002 - June 7, 2002
In the first week, I was introduced to a few new members of my lab who will also be working on making projects for the National Science Foundation, Research Experience for Undergraduates program in the Laser and Optics Lab. For Brendan and Owen it was their very first time being at Stony Brook. We gave them a tour and introduced them to a lot of the possible things that can be studied in the field of optics with the materials here in the Lab. Three other people, Jill, Doug, and Jose already were Stony Brook University students and had started stuff at the Laser Center already.
Previously in the last semester I had begun a simple project about index of refraction. It is an interesting topic and in the end, I am very glad that I chose it. I happen to love giving demonstrations of my project and index of refraction is an idea that anyone who has ever taken any science course has encountered. So for a presentation in May 2002 for the Celebration of Undergraduate Achievements I had constructed a simple fish tank filled with corn syrup and water. If you are interested in reading the whole step-by-step guide of this project Click Here
After this presentation, I was given the opportunity to participate in the NSF REU program. As a first year physics student I felt very honored to have this chance of conducting actual research in the summer. It is the scientist's dream!
Upon studying my tank at later times, I noticed that the curve of the light ray was always different. As time passed the index of refraction of the different liquids placed in different levels of the tank began to blend. I took some pictures of this curve. I talked to a few people who gave me the idea that this curve could possibly be analyzed to be a catenary curve. It was interesting because I always always considering the possibility of it being a parabola instead of a catenary. Doing some research during this week, I discovered that there are a lot of similarities between a catenary and a parabola. In fact Galileo himself believed that the shape of chain under only the force of gravity was simply a parabola.
First of all they both have a single low point. They both also have a vertical line of symmetry. An example that was used to understand this curve is the hanging chain. If a chain is hanged at two ends then the force of gravity will act constant over this chain of a uniform linear mass.
The word catinary itself is derived from the Latin word for chain. It can also be called the alysoid or the chainette. The reason that the light has to travel in this such way is because it has to follow according to Fermat's Principle of least time. Sometimes the light cannot travel in the straight line, it must bend in order to reach the destination sooner.